“We must discuss our strategy to fight and win back our rights”

Ramiro Manini is an economist and legal advisor of the SiTraRepA (Sindicato de Base de Trabajadores de Reparto por Aplicación), a grassroot union of delivery app workers based in Argentina and formed in 2020, the first of its kind in the country.

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By Ramiro Manini

Good afternoon everyone. First of all, I want to greet this impressive Congress, full of fighters from the working class, many young people who are joining this fight. I want to bring you the experience of SiTraRepA’s struggle for the recognition of the union and labor recognition of delivery workers by application in Argentina.

We are workers, not collaborators

In this Congress, there was a lot of talk about how we are workers, we feel like workers, however, companies call us “partners”, “collaborators”, “autonomous”. However, in the labor laws of countries like Argentina, there is no doubt that legally, platform delivery workers are dependent workers and must have all the rights indicated by the law. In Argentina, this rule is the Law of Employment Contract, which says that if there is a provision of services, if there’s a job being done, it is presumed that there is an employment relationship. That is, the burden of proof is on the side of the companies, they should demonstrate that we are not workers, if they can.

There are three principles in Argentina that must be met to be able to say that there is no employment relationship. They must demonstrate that there is no technical, economic or legal dependence.

First, in the gig economy, there is technical dependence: delivery workers must use the company’s platform, which assigns orders, scores, and income through a secret algorithm. We cannot work without the platform given by the company: if we don’t use it, we are unable to generate any income.

Second, economic dependence is evident, delivery workers need their income from delivery to make ends meet, to support themselves and their family. In addition, they could not obtain that income if they were not working for the application.

And finally, legal dependence: the worker puts their work capacity at the disposal of the employer, who directs and pays for it. In this way, the gig company organizes the work, assigns orders, sends you from here to there, and sets its rules, which, if not followed, are punished. The company has a power of discipline towards the worker who does not comply with the rules and impositions.

Given these characteristics, it is evident that at least in Argentina and many other countries in the world, gig work is an employment relationship, not self-employment, and therefore gig workers deserve to enjoy all the corresponding labor rights.

Why are these rights not being fulfilled?

It is important that we know this for our struggle because it marks where we stand and what we need, what our strategy must be. We do not need in Argentina a “new legislation” according to a supposed “new form of work”. The reality is that application delivery work is like work throughout history: the difference is the business model that wants to base its profits on not recognizing labor rights.

And they achieve this because governments allow them to exploit tens of thousands of workers without complying with the current labor laws. So, what we need is not new laws, but to enforce the ones that exist, to force companies to comply with them and to recognize that we are workers.

We do not need specific laws that recognize us as “second-class workers”

It is very dangerous for us in Argentina to talk about particular laws for delivery workers. Three years ago, the Argentine government proposed a “Statute of delivery workers”, a norm that sought to regulate platform work in a particular way. But it did so by recognizing fewer rights than the Law of Employment Contract. That is very dangerous because today we have workers on the one hand with rights, and on the other hand, workers who are in illegality.

Bringing new laws that establish some rights but not all of them creates different categories of legal workers. On the one hand, workers with full rights. On the other hand, second-class workers, with some rights. That opens the door for all branches of industry to want to join the questioning of labor rights: they’d all want to show that “their” workers have to be second-class, with fewer rights, because “of the technology involved”, “it’s a new thing”, “it has more freedom” or whichever excuse the want to put up next to overexploit their workers.

That’s the uberization model they want to impose everywhere, work without rights. It’s not just delivery work through apps, they want to take it everywhere. It’s not a new way of working, it’s just a new way for companies to try to become billionaires by canceling rights, and we can’t allow it.

Yesterday we talked about all the rights that are violated through uberization, but today I want to focus on two, which are central to me.

First, the workday. With this piece wage model, payment per order, and punishments through an algorithm, what the companies achieve is that the worker, to reach an income, extends their workday to inhumane and illegal levels. In Argentina, a legal workday is between 40 and 48 hours per week. The SITRAREPA delivery workers work more than 60 hours per week. And we are very clear about this: working more than 60 hours per week is not “freedom”, it is the most raw labor exploitation, the denial of any real freedom for delivery workers.

Secondly, safety and hygiene conditions. The law requires companies to take care of bathrooms, the supply of potable water. The uberization model violates this requirement, saving millions. That is why we have to demand that they set up support points, distributed throughout all cities, where coworkers can clean up and rest.

How to enforce our rights?

We must discuss our strategy to fight and win back our rights. Legally we are right. That’s why most of the time when we go to court for a blocked and fired colleague, if the judge is reasonable, we manage to get recognition that there was an employment relationship, that the company violated the law, and that the colleague is entitled to compensation for dismissal.

But there is a problem. We are right. But labor justice only agrees with us once we have a dismissed colleague, there is never a court sentence to give rights to workers who are currently working. That’s why labor justice is not a way out to solve the struggle of delivery workers.

A new legislation is also not a way out because the previous one is not being complied with. There is a responsibility on the part of the government, both national and of each province, to enforce the law, to force companies to comply with it. And as that is a political fight, delivery workers need to organize.

That’s why we demand that the Argentine government recognizes SiTraRepA. We know that they won’t give us anything, that’s why we want the recognition of our union organization, to be able to lead that fight for labor recognition and all our rights ourselves. We need it to be able to organize strikes, to be able to protect our members from dismissal. The fight against companies has a political element, organization: either we organize delivery workers in classist, fighting unions, or companies organize them in yellow, pro-employer so called “unions”.

It’s a global fight.

Finally, for me, this congress is very important because the fight against gig companies is necessarily global. The Uberization model is based on extortion: if you win any rights in Argentina, we’ll go to another country where there are no rights, companies threaten us.

This, firstly, is a lie. 200 years ago, when the working class won the 10-hour workday through struggle, employers also said they would shut down, that it couldn’t continue like that. Today we have 8-hour workdays in most countries. It is not true that they cannot function with a dignified workday.

But, secondly, we have to show them that they have nowhere to go, that we are fighting for our rights all over the world. That if we win rights in Argentina, we will also win them in Brazil, in the rest of America, in Europe, in Asia. And so we will strengthen our fight and show that we are not alone, and that we can win. Yesterday Tristan said that working for Amazon in Staten Island was like a nightmare. Today I want to say that if we do this, if we organize tens of thousands of workers around the world to fight for labor and union recognition and for all our rights, we’re going to be Steve Jobs, and all these billionaire companies’ nightmares. They won’t have anywhere to hide from us and from our struggle. 

That ‘s why, to finish, I want to vindicate the slogan of this congress. Trabajadores por aplicación del mundo, unámonos! Gig workers of the world, unite!

Thank you.

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